Ritual as we traditionally understand it means a rehearsed rite observed in a religious setting, like a wedding or funeral. Even a secular ritual – like a marriage at city hall – is a type of observance, a state room, a magistrate of some kind, and community acknowledgment. But moving away from the institutions of our youth, or partnering out of our culture often means the loss of familiar ritual.
In its essence ritual is a container. It marks and makes sacred the transition from one state to another. Music, poetry, prayer, the recognition of the achievement of the subject of the ritual all create a safe vessel into which the celebrant may emerge. Baptism, bat mitzvah, sweatlodge, marriage, the funeral, all fit this mould.
But what about the transitions in life that go unrecognized? These are often mistakenly grieved as loss instead of celebrated as gain. A transition from one job to another, saying goodbye to a beloved home… even the new life that begins when a relationship ends can be framed in joy, when celebrated.
Over time, my friend Mara had accumulated much stuff and this stuff was weighing her down. But she couldn’t get started in the process of shedding. So she invited another friend to help her purge her past, not because it was awful, but because the accrued books, furniture, knick-knacks, old clothes, were becoming an impediment to moving forward. Together the girls spent a week packing up items for a yard sale.
I imagined that this process would be difficult, as each lovingly collected article, each association would have its call and gravity and story. But “No,” said Mara. “It was easy.” It was easy to get rid of a lifetime of collected items that had once held such fascination, because, Mara says, “I had a witness.”
What a beautiful concept… that our story, such as it is, exists in the minds and hearts of a community and is honoured and acknowledged as precious. Perhaps this is the most powerful aspect of ritual: our witness.
I once designed a healing ritual around a broken relationship. With music, candles, effigies of those involved, and intention, the spell of history was dissolved, wounds were healed. And maybe every ritual involves breaking out of the old… blood, sweat, tears, and then welcoming into community – those dear friends and family who bravely stand by.
Note to Self: The next time I need to make a change, one which I may not have the courage to embark upon on my own, I shall create a ritual and invite friends to celebrate. Over the altar of my kitchen table, a central place where so many stories have been shared, a rose, a meal and a glass raised in acknowledgement will honour another signpost along the way… And then we’ll have cupcakes.
About Monica Renée Duncan
A periodical writer for over three decades, Monica is a regular contributor to 3rdimagazine.
“I’ve had many spontaneous and unusual encounters with the divine. For that reason, I have a passionate belief in the power and capacity of the human spirit to evolve. But every new level we attain begins with a first step, the recognition that we need guidance and help. The universe provides, when we ask.”